When you’re a teenager, first crushes can be exhilarating—and excruciating. If your crush is in a band, well, forget about it. In Blues Harp Green, novelist Nicole Schubert walks us through that emotional obstacle course with a protagonist struggling to find herself in a sea of competing influences.
Francie Mills loves tennis and is blessed to be very good at it, but an injured knee and her penchant for throwing tantrums (and rackets) when things go awry present obstacles to her dreams of turning pro. When she meets Chet, the titular blues harpist in his brother’s band, it feels like true love and a happy distraction from her home life.
Francie’s dad is a sloppy drunk, alternately loving and critical. She longs for his approval but fears his judgement. And she’s frustrated with her mother for putting up with it all. Making new friends is a revelation, but who can she trust? Even Chet may not be the golden ticket she thought he was.
Schubert easily captures the rapid-fire emotional changes Francie experiences, jumping from thinking new friend Stella is too wild to “OMG, BFF” mode in an instant. And the background stories about music and filmmaking (Francie’s dad works in the industry) have the ring of truth. But readers are in Francie’s head throughout the story, and the writing suffers from paragraphs that seem to begin in mid-thought and skitter around: “And how he used to be so fun and happy and funny. Like, get excited about things, like movies and music and politics and history. But now, he didn’t.” So much of Francie’s thoughts are panicky and disorganized that the plot gets lost in the noise.
Despite its flaws, Blues Harp Green has much going for it, including the accurate depiction of the heart of a young woman. Readers who click with Francie’s rapid-fire thinking will root for her to find happiness, even if it’s not where she expects it to be.